Friday, June 13, 2014

Review: The Signal

Release date: June 13, 2014 (Spooooky)
Running time: 95 minutes
Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Beau Knapp, Laurence Fishburne
Who to see it with: Someone hoping for a little more suspense in their sci-fi


The Signal doesn't know what kind of movie it wants to be. Is it a horror-style scary movie, or a psychological sci-fi film? Well, it's kind of both and this straddling the line ends up hurting the movie. The film follows a group of college friends on a cross-country trip that gets derailed due to a detour to track down a rogue hacker. The initial part of the film works kind of like your typical horror movie, with plenty of suspense and uncertainty. After this ridiculous situation, it turns into a psychological sci-fi thriller with more suspense and uncertainty. 

For most of the film, Brenton Thwaites is asked to carry the movie, and he does a good job of it. He is an interesting lead character that is easily likable, even if some of his decisions are pretty bone-headed. He's joined by some other lesser known actors and eventually by Laurence Fishburne, who does a great job of playing an eerily calm researcher trying to figure out what happened to the three kids. The story develops slowly, with some strange occurrences and unanswered questions that linger until the end. And, although the ending does try to wrap up some of the uncertainty (I was actually thinking it would end without leaving any answers), the film ends up being unfulfilling given how quickly it tries to tie up the loose ends. 

Many of the questions are left unanswered, although sometimes they're hinted at, and the film seems to have weird situations for the sake of being weird. The cinematography is beautiful, and there are plenty of wonderful shots that show how good the movie could have been. But, in the end, the film feels like more of a style piece than anything. It doesn't explain much and leaves the viewers with more questions than answers. It's not a total train wreck, some of the ideas are interesting and the film has some good effects and cinematography, but the lack of identity really hurts what could have been a fresh film.


I enjoyed the identity crisis. It contributes to the scattered story but also adds more unpredictability. I'm thankful that the horror portion is brief because the characters attempt to commit as many clichéd horror movie mistakes as possible in just a few minutes. The storytelling is often intriguingly mysterious, but the mystery and plot sometimes rely too much on informed characters needlessly withholding helpful information. Laurence Fishburne's character is almost comically unhelpful in his interactions with the friends. This behavior makes slightly more sense after seeing the ending, but their strange methods seem a bit unnatural and designed to create plot twists. I enjoyed the few comedic moments though they clash with the movie's serious tone. The Signal is a mysterious and refreshingly open-ended science fiction story with unsatisfying storytelling.


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